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Table Settings Buying Guide

From family to family, table settings are as different as the decorations on a tree. Some recall old-fashioned dinners with multiple courses and a formal arrangement of guests. Others are better suited to the often-casual nature of today's gatherings, which may mingle family and friends celebrating in a laid-back evening focused on food. Here's how to find a table setting for the holidays that's best for you.

Types of Table Settings

Types of Table Settings

Table settings vary in type mostly by how you will use them -- but they can be interchangeable, too. The many pieces in a formal table setting can be pared down to resemble a casual set. And plates in both types can supplement the needs of the most flexible type of table setting: the buffet. Before you invest in your holiday table setting, read these descriptions and think through the types of gatherings you're most likely to host.


Formal table settings allow for multiple courses and drinks by providing several sizes of plates, bowls, and stemware. Additional elements include serving items such as a butter plate and spreader.


Casual table settings typically include a single plate, one or two glasses, and minimal silverware, such as salad fork and regular fork as well as a knife and spoon.


Buffet table settings often include only plates, glasses, napkins, and silverware. Elements from formal and casual table settings can be used to add to buffet table settings.

Purchase Considerations

Purchase Considerations

Because most table settings are intended to be used from year to year (and sometimes even passed down to the next generation), it's important to take your time and do your research to find the sets that work best for you and your family. Purchase considerations for table settings include price, care, color, pattern, flexibility, and replacement pieces. Use this overview to get started on your search.


Table settings vary greatly in price. Materials and designs will affect the cost, as will availability of styles.


Table settings for the holidays should be evaluated for the time and effort it takes to care for them. Are they dishwasher- or microwave-safe? Do they need special storage, or are they fine in an ordinary cabinet?

Color and Pattern

Table settings for the holidays come in a wide range of colors and patterns. Your existing dishware may provide a good starting point: A collection of white ironware serving bowls blends easily with virtually any holiday color or pattern, for example.


Before purchasing table settings, think through the ways various elements may integrate with other pieces you have. For example, if your everyday plates are a crisp white, they may make a nice supplement to a casual holiday set that relies on a single red plate as its focus.

Replacement Pieces

Pieces of table settings may break or become chipped -- or you may simply wish to have more of them. Investigate how easy it will be to find replacement pieces in case you need or want to add to what you have.

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